If you haven't heard, we recently released what may be my new favorite sock design ever: Animals & Adam in Space Helmets!
Don't worry, the actual socks only feature Animals in Space Helmets. But, these socks got me wondering… has a chimp, a giraffe, or Adam ever been to space before?
Now I know what you’re thinking… it's very unlikely that a) Adam is a trained astronaut who then decided to open a sock company, and b) a giraffe actually fit into a space shuttle. If you were thinking what I was, then you'd be correct in assuming that chimps have indeed been into space before. This is a true story that began over 60 years ago!
Disclaimer: In no way do we condone the mistreatment of animals or think it’s cool to send them into space. Adam, on the other hand, and animals on socks? We are cool blasting them off to space.
The First Chimpanzee in Space
On January 31, 1961, Ham, one of 40 “Astrochimps” become the first chimp to go to space. His story begins in Cameroon where he was born in 1957. Ham was taken to a facility in Florida called the Miami Rare Bird Farm. He was later transferred to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico (NM). During his time in NM, he was known as Chang, or #65. He got his name Ham as an acronym for “Holloman Aero Medical.” After a long 18 months of training, Ham would be the chimpanzee selected to test the safety of space flight on an ape body.
Ham spent several hours waiting on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, where he was buckled into a container called a “couch.” At the time of the launch, he was only 3 and 1/2 years old. Once he was propelled into space Ham remarkably performed all his tasks correctly while traveling at an approximate speed of 5800 mph, 157 miles above the Earth’s orbit. His flight lasted just over 16 minutes and his couch came crashing down into the ocean 130 miles away from its target. He survived and seemed calm considering what he had been through. When he was finally released from the couch it was said that he had a gigantic grin, thought to be a smile by many. This grin was actually one of intense anxiety and fear.
Ham was spared years of research, unlike many of his astrochimp comrades. He did however live a lonely life for 17 years when he was transferred to The National Zoo in 1963. Solace was eventually found when he got to live with other chimps in a North Carolina Zoo before his passing on January 18, 1983, at the age of 26, a harrowing 22 years since his historic flight. His grave marker reads “Ham proved that mankind could live and work in space,” where he is buried in New Mexico.
As mentioned before there were 40 Astrochimps that the U.S. government acquired for its Mercury program. These chimps endured grueling daily training including some of the same G-force exposure simulations as their human counterparts. One of the most important tasks was teaching the chimps to pull a lever every time a blue light came on. If they succeeded they got a banana treat, if not they got a small electric shock. During the training, the group was narrowed down to 6 chimps, 2 males and 4 females. All got sent to Cape Canaveral where Ham was ultimately selected just before the flight because he seemed “particularly feisty and in good humor,” according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
“These animals performed a service to their respective countries that no human could or would have performed,” says NASA’s history of animals in spaceflight webpage. “They gave their lives and/or their service in the name of technological advancement, paving the way for humanity’s many forays into space.”
Now I know that may be a sad story, but it is part of our history and ultimately paved the way for mankind’s first step on the moon! We can learn from past mistakes and be better today. In the meantime, we’re giving a nod to Ham in monkey heaven and hoping that his story won’t soon be forgotten.